Just A Game
Jonah dribbled the basketball across the half-court line, surveying the defense. The ball thudded against the hardwood, but he could barely hear it in the noisy gym. Cheers echoed all around, solely coming from one side of the bleachers. He could hear two words rise above the rest. Shouts of “Peacefield!” mixed with equally loud screams of his name: “Jonah!”
Hearing his name being yelled by the high-pitched voices of high school girls caused a smile to creep across his lips. He had experienced moments like this before—but only in his wildest daydreams.
A loud series of claps from the sidelines drew his eyes. “Come on, Jonah! Let’s go!”
Coach Marty was still as round as a basketball and somehow had managed to squeeze his way into the head coaching position for the boys’ basketball team at Peacefield High. The boys on the team privately joked that they must have given the job to the guy who shouted the loudest. Coach Marty didn’t ever speak in a normal voice—he yelled.
Jonah looked down at the kid guarding him. The kid was crouched down, trying to look intimidating, but he couldn’t hide the fear in his eyes as he looked up at Jonah. Jonah wasn’t exactly surprised by that—he towered over everyone on the court now, having grown another three inches in the past six months.
Jonah made his move. In a blast of blazing speed, he faked to the right. The boy guarding him jumped. Jonah took advantage, pushing past him. The speed he generated with his first two steps put him inside the three-point line. He was almost a blur. Control yourself, Jonah.
A quick scan of the rest of the court let him know that two of his teammates were covered, but the other two were wandering free. Grant Newsome was waving his hands frantically; he was standing right underneath the basket. A pass to him would lead to an easy layup.
Jonah instead turned his eyes to the rim. Another defender had stepped in front of him, but Jonah turned his back and quickly spun away as the helpless boy lunged for what he thought was the basketball, but turned out to be an armful of air.
Ignoring his open teammates, he leaped from just inside the free throw line, trying to remember not to push himself off too high. He had to appear normal—human, like the rest of them. His six-foot-six frame soared through the air, and he finally slammed the ball through the rim with such force that the basket shook, appearing for a second as if it would snap under his force.
Jonah hung on the rim for two seconds longer than he needed to, peering into the stands again, catching glimpses of the fans, who had increased their volume even more now and could barely contain themselves. For the extra swinging, he earned a technical foul from the referee, but he didn’t care. It was worth it.
Mercifully, after another two minutes, the game ended. Peacefield High: 103, Ashburn Academy: 54. Jonah’s teammates surrounded him in the middle of the court, ignoring the dejected players from the losing team who wandered their way back into the visitors’ locker room in a daze. Jonah let himself get caught up in the attention, the slaps on his back, the handshakes, and high fives. A couple of little kids from the stands even came up to ask him for his autograph.
One small boy peered up at him with huge eyes. “Jonah, did you know you scored forty-eight points? And thirty of them were on slam dunks!”
Jonah grinned, reaching down to tousle the boy’s hair. “Maybe you can do that one day too, little guy.”
He looked back up into the stands, where he spotted two lone figures standing on the top row of bleachers. One had a hulking frame, showing off his bulging muscles. The other was smaller and looked more like a teenager. Both wore metallic armor that glittered underneath the fluorescent lights. The outline of their wings cut sharp lines along the wall behind them.
Jonah could see their faces, and even from center court, he could tell they were the only ones in the gym not cheering. In fact, they didn’t appear to be very happy at all.
Another kid tugged at Jonah’s sleeve, and slowly he pulled his eyes away from the angels. He listened to the boy sing his praises for a minute, and by the time he glanced back up to the stands again, the angels were gone.
Jonah was one of the last ones to leave the gym. He had been cornered by a group of girls as soon as he walked out of the locker room. They had been so excited to talk to him that he hadn’t been able to get a word in or escape to head home. Luckily, someone stepped in to rescue him. Jonah felt a slap on his back, and he turned to find his friend Tariq, wearing his typical hundred-watt smile underneath a massive shock of twisty black hair that his friend had taken to calling a “Middle Eastern afro.”
“Another fantastic performance by the great Jonah Stone!”
“Tariq,” Jonah said, high-fiving the boy and glancing back over his shoulder as they walked toward the door. “Thanks for rescuing me. I thought I’d never get away.”
“Rescuing?” he asked, glaring at Jonah. “Who needs rescuing from pretty girls who want your attention? Are you crazy?”
“Yeah, well . . .”
Tariq waved his hand toward the girls, who were watching Jonah leave in disappointment. “Don’t worry,” he said to them loudly. “I’ll call you soon!”
They left the building and headed to the bike rack where their mountain bikes were chained.
“Just think, next year we’ll be able to drive,” Jonah said as they fumbled with their bike locks in the dark.
“The only drive I’m thinking about right now is that last one you made on that poor, poor boy guarding you,” he said. “Right before you hammered that dunk home!” He stood up and pretended to jam the ball through an imaginary hoop. “That was ridiculous, man!”
Jonah felt his face redden. It was one thing to talk about his play after the game with kids and other people he didn’t really know. But Tariq had been his friend since the second grade, and he probably wasn’t going to accept Jonah’s new basketball skills without asking some questions. “It was okay,” Jonah said softly. “Not really all that great when you think about it.”
“Seriously, Jonah, you don’t mean that. I’ve watched every one of these last five games, and what you are doing out there is crazy. I don’t know what happened to you last year. But you go away to some special school and come back, and you’re, like, ten inches taller and all of a sudden, have these mad basketball skills . . .” His voice trailed off as he shook his head. Jonah was starting to feel even more uncomfortable. “It’s almost like you’re not human or something.”
He swallowed as he pulled his bike out of the rack and swung his leg over the bar. They’d already had this conversation before, so Jonah was sticking to his story. “Hey—it’s just a growth spurt. I mean, my whole family is tall. And once I grew a little, my balance got better . . . Come on, I’ll race you home.”
Tariq wasn’t one to back down from a challenge, but Jonah knew the discussion wasn’t over for good.
There’s no way he could know, Jonah thought. Surely he wouldn’t ever suspect who I really am.
They pedaled the mile and a half home, Jonah having to work hard to back off on his speed and keep his friend in the race. Right at the end, he pretended he was giving it all he had but getting tired, and just as they got to Tariq’s driveway, his friend pulled ahead.
“Good race!” Jonah said, breathing heavily.
“Yeah,” mumbled Tariq, riding down his driveway. “But next time you want to let me win, make it a little less obvious.”
Jonah’s mouth hung open, but he didn’t say anything as he watched Tariq pull into his garage and shut the automatic door.
He walked his bike two more blocks down Cranberry Street to his small, white two-level house. A rusting backboard and rim that had seen better days still stood at the end of the driveway.
He wanted to tell his friend the truth. But what was he supposed to say? Hey, so I’m not totally human. I’m actually one-quarter angel. It’s no big deal, really. I just have some special abilities.
Jonah shook his head. It still sounded crazy enough in Jonah’s head. What level of crazy would he achieve if it came out of his mouth?
Two figures stepped out from behind the willow tree in the front yard. Jonah froze, his instincts causing him to reach down to his side, preparing to pull his angelblade. He sighed loudly when he realized who it was.
“Marcus,” he said, eyeing the large one. He glanced at the smaller angel. “Henry.” Jonah’s shoulders sagged, and he continued to push his bike toward the house.
Henry watched Jonah walk past them, placing his hand on Marcus’s chest, keeping him from charging forward, as he was prone to do.
“Camilla sent us here. I guess you realize why, don’t you, Jonah?” Henry offered in his normal pleasant voice, without a hint of judgment or anger.
Jonah wheeled around. “Look,” he said, glaring. “I’m not doing anything wrong. I am keeping all of my gifts under control.”
“You are taking advantage,” Marcus said, pushing Henry’s hand down and taking a step forward. “You’re using these powers for . . . for . . . your own amusement and gain!”
Jonah stepped toward the large angel. As tall as Jonah was, his face met the middle of the angel’s chest. But he didn’t feel like backing down this time. “I’m not hurting anybody, Marcus! And trust me, I’m not doing nearly what I could do out there . . .”
“You’re drawing unnecessary attention to yourself,” countered Henry. “People are beginning to notice.”
“And that’s a bad thing?” Jonah asked. “What’s wrong with me having a little fun? So what if I can do things other kids can’t do?” I deserve it after the year I’ve been through, he thought. Don’t you guys get that? Doesn’t Elohim understand that?
“You won’t be able to contain yourself!” answered Marcus. “We saw your little game there tonight. You were barely able to hold yourself back. Your pride is going to get you into some serious trouble.”
Henry stepped between them before Jonah could respond. “We all know you have been through so much this year. And taking this time in Peacefield, well, it is certainly your choice. We have kept our distance and given you your space. We are here, on behalf of Camilla, to remind you, though, of who you are. Who you really are, Jonah. You’re a quarterling. You are gifted for battle, battle in the hidden realm, a key player in the fight between Elohim and Abaddon.”
Jonah looked down at his shoes but didn’t say anything as Henry continued.
“When your mom was lost, it was awful.”
“She was killed, Henry,” Jonah erupted. “She wasn’t just lost!”
“All of heaven mourned for you and your family,” Marcus said, more steady and quiet. “We are just here to make sure you don’t forget.”
“Well, thanks a lot for coming, guys,” Jonah answered, “but I think I’m doing just fine right here in Peacefield. You can tell Camilla that when you go back.”
He turned and headed for the front door, letting go of his bike so that it fell in the grass.
“It’s okay, Jonah,” Henry called out as Jonah stepped onto the porch. “We’re here. You’re not alone.”
Jonah paused for a second but didn’t turn around. Just go away, he thought. He put his hand on the doorknob and turned the handle.
*This Excerpt Published 11/15/87